Irish eyes were smiling.
President Obama kicked off his six-day European tour in Ireland on Monday, the first stop in a four-nation tour that includes dinner with the Queen of England, the annual G8 Summit in France and a visit to Poland.
In Dublin, a crowd of 25,000 people greeted the president and First Lady Michelle Obama, thrilled that he chose to visit their economically distressed nation. Obama recounted the contributions the Irish have made to the United States, such as signatures on founding documents, the work they did to help build American cities and public servants named Kennedy, Reagan, O’Neill and Moynihan.
“Never has a nation so small inspired so much in another,” Obama said during a speech he delivered to the cheering crowd. “This little country that inspires the biggest things — your greatest days are still ahead.”
The highlight of the day was a visit made earlier to the hometown of Obama’s great-great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side, who immigrated from the tiny Irish village of Moneygall to Ohio in 1850. Thousands of people there also turned up to catch a glimpse of Obama, some of whom had waited for more than three hours, weathering heavy rain, hail and wind.
Obama also popped into a pub to drink a customary pint of Guinness, which he said “tastes so much better here than it does in the states.” While there he reconnected with a distant cousin, Henry Healy.
Anne Maher, a teacher who wore a hat that read “Obama Moneygall 2011,” told the pool of American reporters covering the president’s European trip that he held her hand and kissed her cheek, an experience she’ll likely dine on for years.
“I’m not gonna wash that cheek for a lifetime,” Maher said. “And my husband isn’t getting near it, either.”
The Obamas were forced to end their visit to Ireland early because of concern that an ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano would impede air travel. On Tuesday, the president will lunch with Queen Elizabeth II, meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron, tour Westminster Abbey and attend a state dinner at Buckingham Palace.
(Photo: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)